Class: 
Cycle A: Thirtieth Sunday of the Liturgical Year

THE GREATEST COMMANDMENT

 

If we were to conduct a survey among Christians to find out what is the most important demand of our faith, we would probably get many answers: e.g. The Sunday Mass, service to the poor, the spirit of prayer, etc.

I - The greatest commandment

1. In the time of Christ, there were 613 commandments, 365 interdictions and 248 prescriptions in the Law that had to be kept scrupulously. So, the question discussed was: “Which is the greatest commandment?” For the Pharisees, everything was important.

2. But Jesus, on his part, was rather free with regard to regulations. For example, he would often cure the sick on the Sabbath, a day when any type of activity was forbidden. So, there was tension in the air. He answered the question by saying: “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second resembles it: you must love your neighbour as yourself.”

- For him, there was not only one, but two essential commandments and both had the same importance. Later on, Saint John will comment: “Anyone who says, ‘I love God’ and hates his brother is a liar” (1 Jn 4: 20).

Some years ago, during an inter-religious meeting in Hyderabad, a Hindu Brahmin said: “Many Christians have so far understood half of Christianity. They have understood that God and Christ are the same. But they have not yet understood that Christ and the poor are the same.”

- For Jesus, the most important demand of faith was not a matter of regulations, but the interior dispositions of the heart.

One day, in Kolkata, Mother Teresa found an old man unconscious. He had just collapsed on the sidewalk. She asked the Sister accompanying her to go and get a stretcher from a nearby hospital. After some time, the Sister came back saying: “The rules of the hospital don’t permit them to lend stretchers outside the compound.” By the time the two Sisters managed to get help from the passers-by the old man died, while he was being taken to the hospital. In this case, the regulations were more important than a human being.

3- To show that love has to do with the interior dispositions of the heart, Jesus revealed how the Father loves us. And if we want to grasp the depth of the Father’s love for us, we have only to look at Jesus and see the way he loved. He mixed with those who were despised. He allowed the sick and the children to approach him. He gave confidence to those he met: he did not hinder the freedom of anyone. Yet he was very demanding. He did not water down his message in order to keep his recruits with him.
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- It is impossible for us to love the way Jesus wants us to love, if we have not experienced the love of the Father. That is why Saint John wrote: “This is the love I mean: not our love for God, but God’s love for us when he sent His Son to be the sacrifice that takes our sins away” (1 Jn 4: 10).

- When Saint John wrote that “God is love”, he did not mean that every kind of love (e.g. making love) is from God. The love that God has for us goes beyond our own ways of loving by its intensity.

- Jesus never presented love as the fruit of one’s efforts, but as a gift from God: “Love one another as I have loved you.”

- That love is a sign by which people will be able to recognize us as Christ’s disciples. The smallest action inspired by love is a sign that Christ is still at work in the world through the Spirit.

If you were asked to give the name of a man/woman who contributed most to spread love in the world, what name would you give? Why?

II- “Love one another as I have loved you”

That person can help us to know what love means.

- To love means to give priority to others. There are many ways of doing this, especially in married life when the husband does not realize that he is hurting his spouse very deeply.

Joe and Mary seemed to have a good marriage. On the tenth anniversary of their wedding, they went out for a meal. They talked for a while over the drink, then lapsed into silence. Mary eventually broke the silence. With a note of anxiety in her voice, she turned to Joe and said, “Joe, do you love me?” And Joe replied at once, “Yes, I do.” They lapsed into silence again. Joe nodded to the bar man who promptly refilled their glasses. A second time, Mary broke the silence. Again she turned to Joe and, with increased anxiety in her voice, asked, “Joe, do you really love me?” And again without a moment’s hesitation Joe replied, “Yes, Mary, I really do.” They lapsed into silence once more. Again Joe saw to it that their glasses were refilled.

A third time Mary broke the silence. She turned to Joe and, with a quiet desperation in her voice, asked, “Joe, do you really and truly love me?” On hearing her ask him the same question a third time, Joe got annoyed and answered, “Mary, how many times do I have to tell you that I love you? Didn’t you hear me the first time? Are you drunk or something?” With that Mary shook her head sadly and replied, “Joe, you don’t really love me.” He looked at her with a blank expression on his face, then mumbled, “I don’t understand.” She looked at him steadily, then said, “Joe, if you really loved me, you’d know what’s hurting me.” (F. Mc Carthy)

- As we are human, we could be very selective in loving others. In other words, we would love only those who love us. What credit can we expect from this? Anyone can do it. Real love is much more demanding. It leads us to forgive our enemies. Jesus did not ask us to feel sympathy towards them. That is something impossible. The love that Jesus expects us to show is a will to accept others as they are.

- Authentic love is not exclusive. It opens the door to all, especially the poor and the oppressed. Yet how reluctant we are at times to help those who suffer. Listen to the testimony of bishop Fulton Sheen.

“I will tell you how I failed once in showing that love. I failed many times, but this one was notable. I was visiting lepers in Africa. I had with me 500 silver crucifixes. The first man who came to me had his left arm eaten away and he held up the stump. There was a rosary around it and he put out his right hand. It was the most foul mass of flesh that I ever saw. And I held the crucifix above it and dropped it. It was swallowed up in that volcano of leprosy. And all of a sudden there were 501 lepers in that camp, and I was the 501st, for I had taken that symbol of God’s identification with those who suffer and refused to identify myself with someone who is a thousand times better on the inside than I. Then it came over me the awful thing that I had done. So, I dug my fingers into his hand and pulled out the crucifix and pressed it to his hand, and so on for all the other lepers. From that time on I learned to love them by touch.”

- Jesus asks us to love one another as he himself loved us, i.e. “to the end.” Mother Teresa commented by saying: “Love till it hurts.” This is illustrated beautifully by the following incident.

Some time ago, in our children’s Home, we didn’t have sugar for our children. A little boy, four years old, heard that Mother Teresa had no sugar for the children. He went home and told his parents, “I will not eat sugar for three days. I will give my sugar to Mother Teresa.” After three days, the parents brought him to our house. He was so small that he could scarcely pronounce even my name, and yet he taught me how to love with great love. It was not how much he gave, but he gave with great love, and he gave until it hurt. (Mother Teresa)

- All of us are made to love. We cannot be happy without love. Work, socializing, alcohol cannot compensate. Saint Paul says: “If I am without love, I am nothing” (1 Cor. 13: 2).


III- Additional insights

- When we look at what is happening in society or our own lives, we see that people are much more inclined to fight than to show love. However, people who show love and kindness do more to change the world than the most powerful rulers. Such people don’t like to make a show of themselves.

- We, Christians, don’t have the monopoly of love. There are millions of “Good Samaritans” in the world.

- On the other hand, the fact that the conditions of life are improving in our country does not necessarily indicate an improvement in the quality of life or in love.

- Have you ever seen a Jumbo Jet 747? (490 passengers, 345 tons). What power in the engines! In a similar way, love gives you wings. Jesus never ceases to lighten the burdens of people with the propelling force of the Gospel. He did not come to load us with heavy burdens: “My yoke is easy, my burden light.” During 20 centuries, no storm has broken this propeller.

- Finally, keep in mind that love is like a flower. It takes time for it to blossom and it is purified by the trials of life.

Let me conclude with an analogy. A sparrow fell in love with a white rose, but the rose said to the bird, “Unless I am turned into red, I will not be able to love you.” The sparrow, now left into deep thoughts, wondered and searched for means to turn the white rose into red. At dawn of the morrow, the sparrow was struck with the bright idea of pricking itself with a thorn and letting its blood to flow on the rose. Having accomplished its task, when the rose turned red, the sparrow breathed its last. (Anon)

Hervé Morissette, csc

Author: 
Hervé Morissette csc